Crossing the NY Finish Line

20180727_070411My feet hit the pavement in slow motion as a red-pink sunrise greets me. Each one of my foot strikes is slower than I want it to be. Like the sun rising above me, I take my time in getting started.

But that’s not always a bad thing. What other creature wakes up to a screeching alarm clock and hits the ground running right from the start? I know my brown, furry, four-legged friend begins each day like this: with his bum in the air and paws outstretched, he’ll effortlessly complete a perfect Downward-Facing dog pose. Then he yawns. No one can rush him.

Why can’t I be more like him?

I berate myself on a daily, if not an hourly basis. Why am I not a faster runner?  Why can’t I put the fork down? I probably wouldn’t need to hit the gym and the road nearly as often if I didn’t eat so much yesterday, the day before that, or on weekends.  Clearly, I have a problem with food.

Why don’t I dress better? Why don’t I learn how to speak French? Or, why not learn Italian? Why don’t I spend more time with my friends? Why don’t I share more with friends?  Why? Then with all the unrelenting questions spinning in my mind, I find myself hating me and running. Definitely – hating me running.   

Finally, I turn a bend. I’m being followed.  Who’s there?

Oh, it’s only you. Memories of what’s already happened: Dad’s death at sixty-three years old from lung cancer.  Damn it. I’ve been here before.  I know this road. I’m running down a dead end street with no other options to change direction.

I breathe hard. Here it comes: those terrible news clips that are replayed about losses that I’ve suffered. I hear myself hyperventilating.  Excellent.  Now, I can’t breathe. I stop to walk it out. In my brain I rationalize, I’m just having laboured breathing because of unknown allergens in the air. That’s it. Or, so I tell myself.  What’s that I feel on my face?  My eyes fill up with tears and burst along the sides of my cheeks like a waterfall. I feel my lower lip quiver. I can’t stop it from happening.

What will my neighbours think? Today, I have poorly chosen to run in my neighbourhood. It seemed like a good idea when I started.  If someone sees me that I know, they will think I’ve left my mind two blocks back. I pause for a moment and wonder:  maybe I should go back and get it? Nope, my inner voice reminds me.  I lost it a long time ago.

I rage against my history, fighting, to pick up the pace. With every footprint left on the road, I am dragged down by the quicksand in my mind. Here it comes: my brother’s accident. STOP IT. A random accident that could have turned out worse: but I can’t help but question, why not better?

I slow down, slithering back to my house, defeated. I am sobbing and hyperventilating. I hold my hand over my tummy clutching it in an effort to try to force myself to stay in an upright position.  Please, let me make it home.  Don’t let me end up lying in the fetal position at the side of the road, only to be found by a kind-hearted passerby who will immediately call 911 because they believe I am injured. The next day’s headlines would read:

LOCAL WOMAN FOUND IN DITCH UNHARMED:

SUFFERS MENTAL BREAKDOWN TWO BLOCKS FROM HOME

Why do I try to run?  Why don’t I just give up?

***

November 6th, 2011

The sun is breaking over the horizon in New York. The air is crisp and cold and it awakens my senses. But it’s not just the air that has my adrenaline pumping: it’s also because today is RACE DAY.

The sun rises a little more over the horizon, and my mind uses the light in front of me to review what I’ve done. Or maybe, dwells more on what I haven’t done.

SHIT. HILLS. How did I not realize there were hills in New York?  But there are no hills in New York. Right. They have bridges. A dedicated marathon friend of mine informed me just days before the NY Marathon. See, he prepares, and knows what to expect. I, on the other hand,  prepar-ish.   I think to myself, should I have done hill training?

Oh well, nothing can be done now. You did most of the work. Run. Ice bath. Physiotherapy. Massage. Repeat.  You’ve done the work. Just enjoy the race.

As our bus arrives at Staten Island the bus finally stops and we step outside. The air is brisk. But the weather forecast predicts a high of 21 degrees and that’s quite warm for New York in early November.  And it’s nice weather to run in. I’ll take it.

After more than four hours of waiting, walking, stretching, chatting, and sitting (oh and taking those last minute bathroom breaks!) we are finally in our corrals. The announcer enthusiastically states it is the largest New York City Marathon, with 47,000 runners. A little later, Frank Sinatra’s, “New York, New York” echoes everywhere. Sometime later, my corral is finally released and we set off on the marathon route.

I start to run, running, then, I’M FLYING.  Well, flying while taking intermittent walk breaks. I do things at my own pace.  But the advantage is by doing my run slowly, I get to take it all in. The crowds of people cheer, and clap, and line the streets waiting for us. Music rumbles through the roads. They encourage us, hand out food, and remind us that we’re one percent of the population that will ever complete a marathon. And they’re there, for us. Even the slow pokes like me. The back-of-the-packers who have the slimmest of hopes of finishing the five Burroughs run in less than six hours. When we enter Brooklyn, a big man, with a gruff Brooklyn accent says to us, “Welcome to Brooklyn!

WELCOME, INDEED.

Throngs of people line the streets through Manhattan and as we turn a bend we enter Central Park.  I secretly wonder, how long have these people been out here? Did the mayor of New York create a schedule for the people of New York instructing each person as to when they should appear to ensure there was always sufficient support along the marathon route?

No, it couldn’t be.  The enthusiasm was genuine. The energy given off by the crowds could not be scheduled or rehearsed. It was a five Burroughs block party.

As I pushed onwards towards the finish line, I went down that haunted road that follows me. It starts off innocently enough with me reminiscing about 2008. As luck would have it, 2008 would be the first year that I didn’t make it in to the New York City Marathon. See, if you’re slow like me, there’s only one way to gain entry and that’s by applying and hoping, to be randomly selected through the lottery system. Of course, if I applied three years in a row, I was guaranteed entrance in the fourth year. Who says perseverance doesn’t pay?

But other things happened in the fall of 2008.  It’s a trigger you see. The year matters. In the fall of 2008, my husband was laid off. Two weeks later doctors found the “shadow” on my father’s lung, and a couple of months later my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Of course, in Feb 2009 my father succumbed to pneumonia.

Then, I’m back in January 2010. Hubby and I are at a local pub called, D’Arcy McGee’s. It was a spontaneous suggestion on my part brought on by a wish for fish and chips. In between mouthfuls of deep fried haddock and French fries, I declare to my husband with utmost confidence, “I think I’m turning a corner.” The overwhelming, penetrating, grief of my father’s death was starting to lessen. Finally, I thought, I think I’ll be alright.

THIS IS A WELL DOCUMENTED RULE: NEVER ANNOUNCE SUCH THINGS TO THE UNIVERSE.  IT WILL CLUB YOU OVER THE HEAD.

The next day I was clubbed.  My mother called in the early morning on Saturday to say my brother had an accident and he had surgery overnight. He was recovering in the Intensive Care Unit of the Hospital.  He had an accident while working on a construction job that changed his life forever.

I snap myself back to the present day.  Am I hyperventilating a few hundred meters from the finish line?  Now, I’m walking.

No, this is not happening. Not here. Not now. I’ve worked too hard.

With new found determination I push forward, forcing back the memories with each footprint. Timing is everything. I know that. I wouldn’t have been ready in those three years. Stumbling, one foot in front of the other, in a sloth-mode-walk each day to work was challenging enough.

I feel my arms reach towards the sky as I cross the line where above me is written the word – FINISH.  A picture taken shortly after the race shows me proudly wearing my medal. My eyes glisten. I wear a smile so wide that on the right side of my forehead a blood vessel protrudes above my eyebrow.

Sometimes it’s best to let fate take its course. You can cry as much as you want about the unfairness of life, but life may have other plans for you. And sometimes, something you want so desperately isn’t meant to be, at least, not right now. So, you wait, for another day, when you have warm weather, sunny skies, and long lines of crowds cheering you on.

***

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